Summary: Do you want real joy in the face of any adversity? Then pursue the advancement of the Gospel and the exaltation of Christ above anything else.
Maria Brunner's husband was unemployed, so she supported their three young children by cleaning other people's houses. However, even without a job, her husband managed to run up quite a number of unpaid parking tickets. The bill totaled nearly $5,000. Mr. Brunner kept the tickets a secret from his wife, but as the owner of the vehicle, she was responsible. Maria could not pay the fine, so unless her husband came up with the money, she had to spend three months behind bars in her town of Poing, Germany.
Maria's reaction? She said, “I've had enough of scraping a living for the family… As long as I get food and a hot shower every day, I don't mind being sent to jail. I can finally get some rest and relaxation.”
Police reported that when they went to arrest Maria, “she seemed really happy to see us… and repeatedly thanked us for arresting her.” While most people taken into custody hide their heads in shame, Maria “smiled and waved as she was driven off to jail.” (Family of the Week, www.timesonline.co.uk, 5-15-05; www.PreachingToday.com)
Maria was looking for happiness in jail, an unusual place, to be sure; but it does raise a very important question: Where do we find true happiness? Where do we find a real and lasting joy? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to the book of Philippians, a book about joy in the New Testament, Philippians 1.
Philippians 1:12-18a I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (ESV)
Do you want to find joy? Then…
PURSUE THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE GOSPEL.
Give your heart and soul to the work of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. Go after the proclamation of Christ, not the promotion of yourself.
That’s what Paul did. He rejoiced, because Christ was proclaimed. He was glad, because the Gospel was advanced. That’s where he found great joy, even in prison, and even when people were trying to make it hard for him.
In vs.12, Paul says, “I want you to know…that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
Well, what exactly did happen to Paul? Luke tells us at the end of the book of Acts (don’t turn there). In Acts 21, Paul is falsely accused and arrested in Jerusalem. In Acts 22, He is nearly mobbed and flogged. In Acts 23, He is struck on the mouth before a Jewish court. In Acts 24, He is transferred to Caesarea under armed guard, because the Jews tried to kill him in Jerusalem. In Acts 25-26, He gets stuck in a Caesarean prison for two (2) years, because he refuses to bribe the governor. In Acts 27, He is shipwrecked on his way to Rome, and in Acts 28, He is placed under house arrest in Rome, and chained to a guard 24-hours a day, while he is awaiting trial before Caesar himself.
These are the things that happened to Paul. And yet, through it all, he finds joy (vs.18 says). Why? Because these things have served to “advance the gospel” (vs.12). That word, “advance,” is a very interesting word. It literally means, “to strike forward,” and it pictures a pioneer cutting his way through thick brush. Paul tells us, “It’s tough going. It’s like cutting through thick brush, but the gospel is making progress. People are hearing the good news of Christ, and they are responding to it.”
The whole imperial guard has heard about Christ, because of his chains (vs.13 tells us). That is to say all of Caesar’s palace guards have heard the Gospel. You see, Paul was chained to a guard 24 hours a day.
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on Philippians, says, “The shifts changed every six (6) hours, which meant that Paul could witness to at least four (4) men each day! Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches throughout the Empire! It was not long before some of those soldiers put their faith in Christ. Paul was able to get the Gospel into the elite [Palace] guard, something he could not have done had he been a free man.” (Be Joyful, p.33)